Today’s weather forecast called for a major snowstorm to begin mid-morning. Although computer projections make forecasting increasingly accurate, sometimes the storm moves in ahead of schedule. So, while I expected no more than a dull, overcast sky at daybreak, I peeked out the window, hoping to see a few flakes. To my surprise, I saw neither snow nor overcast sky but an eastern horizon ablaze with sunrise color.
Such unexpected twists make weather — and fictional characters — fascinating.
The snow started after ten as forecast, but it didn’t start out slowly and then become heavy mid-afternoon. From the time it began, snow fell at the rate of an inch or more an hour, and by three we had over six of the ten to sixteen inches predicted. Schools closed; activities and meetings were cancelled; companies sent workers home early. Even though a full complement of snowplows had deployed, cars crept at a pace that made journeys four to five times longer than usual.
Snow definitely has an effect on human beings, as does every kind of weather. Weather conditions are something all of us must deal with and about which everyone has feelings, occasionally quite strong feelings — which is something a writer needs to keep in mind when creating characters and crafting a story.
Weather can function as the antagonist in a story. It can impose obstacles that provide complications in the plot or it can aid the characters in achieving their goals. The emotion-inducing aspects of weather can help set the mood for a story or to heighten the tension in a scene. In addition, a character’s reactions to weather and feelings about it can reveal and add depth to characterization by showing personality traits, thus making characterization an integral part of the story as well as making the character someone with whom the reader can identify. If handled well, the use of weather events can serve as an effective device in a writer’s toolkit.
To make a character’s reaction to a weather event believable, consider what lies behind that reaction:
- People’s occupations have an effect on their reactions. Weather forecasters, people who earns extra cash plowing, and owners of stores that sell snow shovels and salt usually look forward to snowstorms. So would school-age children, teachers, and aides. On the other hand, workers who have long commutes, people who have large areas to shovel, the homeless, and many other adults regard such a storm with strong dislike.
- A person’s situation will influence his reaction. A man who normally can’t wait to head for the ski slopes when the first snowflake falls might curse the snow when it causes a delay in his flight to attend his twenty-fifth class reunion.
- A person’s temperament also shapes her attitude. Emotional reactions to adverse conditions can range from regarding them as an inconvenience to considering them a personal insult, from accepting them as a challenge or opportunity to dismissing them as something too unimportant to pay heed to. Some people prepare for storms days in advance; some the day before; others at the last minute; a few not at all.
When considering the points above in deciding how your characters might react to a particular weather event, keep in mind that people do not always fall into convenient categories. A school-age child might hate snow. A long-distance truck driver might love it. An unexpected (but understandable) response to weather can make a character more compelling by giving that character greater dimension.
As I write this, I keep glancing out the window at the falling snow. Snow has that effect on me. Unlike many adults, I get as excited as a child when the word pops up in the weather forecast. Maybe that’s because, as a teacher, I got snow days off just like the students. Whatever the reason, I never lost my childhood love of snow. To me, it’s something beautiful and special, something to be anticipated and appreciated. I love watching snow fall, watching the wind toss it around, watching it cover the grass, the sidewalks and roads, the trees and fence posts. I like walking in it, in the crisp freshness and the muffling silence. When the storm stops and the sun peeps out again, I look for the footprints of birds and small critters and the patterns of dark shadows tree branches etch on the clean white.
Snow feeds something deep inside me, fuels inspiration, and sparks creativity.
How do you feel about and respond to snow? Do you enjoy it too?
Have you thought about how your characters would respond to challenging weather?